Mail order VS local apple trees?

highalttransplant(z 5 Western CO)January 12, 2008

In my search for apple trees I have found several online/mail order companies that have a wide variety of apple trees, most in the $20 - $35 per tree range. My search locally was "fruitless" last year : ) This week I found out about a place approx. 20 miles from here that sells apple trees, but they only carry two varieties, Gala, and Yellow Delicious, which are sold in pairs. The cost is $77 for a 1" diam., and $95 for a 1 1/4" daim., which the owner says is about 6' in height. From what I have read, the mail order trees are in the 3 - 4' range for height.

So my question is, would I be better off sacrificing selection and cost savings, to have a larger tree that was grown locally? Even taking shipping costs into account, the mail order companies are much less expensive, but how many years would I have to wait for it to produce? The local guy says his could produce as early as next year.

Anyone growing either of these varieties? What do you folks recommend?


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I read someplace that buying a larger tree doesn't help much in the long run. If I remember correctly, they said that the transplanting process is somewhat traumatic and a smaller tree recovers faster than a larger tree, so that after a few years, there is no difference in size.

10 years ago or so, I planted a yellow delicious that was on sale (end of season). It was way too hot that day and the sun coming through the window caused many of the leaves to dry out. I didn't expect it to survive, and also never expected to see many apples since I only bought one tree and couldn't see any other apple trees from my yard. Much to my surprise, it thrived and produced more apples than we could use almost every year (somebody must have a crabapple tree somewhere nearby).

The problem was that it had a lot of apples that dropped to the ground so there was always a mess around it, so I cut it down this spring. I'm not saying the mess is something specific to the yellow delicious. I think that's a common problem with apple trees.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2008 at 11:31PM
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david52 Zone 6

I would strongly recommend going with the bare root, internet trees. Apples ((((generally)))) will flower and form fruit. The issue is pollination with some varieties requiring another variety, charts are everywhere. I just googled up "apple tree pollination chart" and there are several out there, as well as sources of trees I hadn't heard of.

Bare root trees will easily catch up and pass potted trees - for both kinds, the first 3 years are spent forming roots, and then year 4 they take off. So I spend the first three years worrying about pruning for the eventual shape of the tree, not getting all that much growth.

As I mentioned on the other thread, putting down a black, woven polyester mulch doubled the fruit tree growth, and I have some now that bore fruit on year 3.

They can be messy, and I end up picking most of mine before the suggested ripe date, which is after a frost or two, because the birds really get into them.

Finally, I can buy Golden Delicious and Gala at the store, but I can't buy Spitzenberg, Wolf River, Cox's Pippen, or any of the other fantastic varieties out there.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2008 at 11:05AM
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stevation(z5a Utah)

When I put in my two apple trees (Jonathan and Granny Smith), I bought somewhat big ones from a local nursery. The Granny was maybe a 10-gallon size and the Jonathan was probably a 5-gallon. They have grown quite quickly. I planted them in the fall and had fruit from them that next fall, one year later. I suppose they were 3-5 years old already in the pots, especially the Granny, which was pretty thick.

I know many people say that smaller trees will outpace larger trees after transplanting, but I think it has a lot to do with mistakes people make when planting larger trees. If you're EXTREMELY careful with the rootball, by very gently placing it in the planting hole (not dropping it!), you avoid damaging the roots and I think they grow just great. I also threw some super phosphate in the hole and drenched the rootball with a liquid root stimulator fertlizer after getting it halfway buried. I'm sure those things helped.

And although you can buy Granny Smith apples at the grocery store, they get more ripe when you grow your own (they actually get a little red blush on them you never see in the store). BUT I would add they aren't really a great variety for my climate since they ripen late. This year they ripened too late and some were unusable. In your zone, it would be worse.

And one more plug for apple trees -- I love that they're not as picky as peaches in terms of pruning. Peaches need about 1/3 of the branches removed each winter so they'll produce enough new wood for the next year's crop. But apples will produce fruit on old wood, so it's a much easier tree for maintenance. I just prune mine to a shape that looks good and lets enough sun into the tree so all the fruit will ripen well.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2008 at 11:26AM
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highalttransplant(z 5 Western CO)

I appreciate everyone's advice, and enjoy hearing what has worked for others. Still, I keep going back and forth about ordering online, or buying local. The Gala's I like, but Golden Delicious is not a variety I usually buy, as they are often bland, and mealy in texture. The local guy says the ones I would get would be much better, since they will ripen on the tree. I just don't want to be stuck with a ton of apples that no one here likes. I guess I could use them all for applesauce or baking pies if no one will eat them fresh. David's right about there being a lot more varieties offered online and one's that aren't available locally, or at the grocery store. Just wish I could taste test them all, to get that "perfect" apple.


    Bookmark   January 14, 2008 at 11:38AM
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david52 Zone 6

To confuse you further....

I live in an area that used to be almost entirely apple orchard, and there are dozens of orchards all around. I occasionally get a few boxes of tree-ripened, frost nipped Golden Delicious.

They are fantastic. Any apple that you can grow is fantastic.

Stevation, I have 3 peach trees, and I only prune them just to thin them out a bit, usually in the winter. They seem to be covered in blooms every spring. Too early, to be sure, so I only rarely get a decent fruit set.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2008 at 2:50PM
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highalttransplant(z 5 Western CO)

Well, I finally made a decision. I ordered two trees from Stark Bro's, a Starkspur Golden Delicious, and a Honeycrisp. I'm taking your word, David, on homegrown apples tasting better than the grocery store ones, since there weren't a lot of yellow varieties to choose from. I ordered the "Supreme" trees, which means it will be a 4' - 5' tree,and comes with a weed mat, tree guard, and time release fertilizer. I also paid the extra $1, to have them pre-prune the tree for me. This company has a one year replacement guarantee, but let's hope I won't need one : )

Even with shipping, I spent less than half of what the local guy was going to charge me.


    Bookmark   January 17, 2008 at 12:49PM
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david52 Zone 6

Bonnie, one thing I've found with ordering bare root trees is that if you have the chance, well before they arrive, to prepare the planting hole than you'll be glad you did. This isn't as difficult as with a large potted tree - I usually do a 15" dia / 12" deep and prune off any roots that are too big for that.

I'm a fan of only mildly improving the soil in the hole, say with a few inches of compost on the bottom, and back filling with the local dirt you took out of the hole. My theory is that the compost helps keep the root area moist for the first year, which helps the tree get over the transplant shock, but then the tree will start sending out stronger, lateral roots looking for nutrients and giving support. Same sort of thing on putting in a trunk support, I don't do it because I think the roots are stronger if it has to fight some wind.

If you don't dig the holes before hand, the Gardening Gods will pull one or more of several tricks. Huge buried rock where you 'think' you wanted the tree, or maybe it will be 30º out and sleeting when they come, or you'll find that the water main to the house just happens to be there, and so on.

If the hole is all prepared, its only a 5 minute job to plant it, water it in, and start daydreaming about home-grown apples.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2008 at 1:21PM
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aliceg8(CO 5)

Bonnie, I read somewhere (CSU Extension pages maybe?) that the Honeycrisp was a good apple to grow in Colorado. And I'm eating one right now too!!

Good luck, and we'll look forward to your harvest reports in a year or two!

    Bookmark   January 17, 2008 at 3:02PM
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highalttransplant(z 5 Western CO)

Alice, where did you buy the Honeycrisp apple? I've never seen them in the grocery store. We have only the basic ones - Red & Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, and Gala or Fuji. Occasionally, there will be something less common. Like this week, I found Cameo, which are delicious, crisp, sweet, and a bit tart. I've also seen Rome, Braeburn, or Pink Lady, but they are definitely not regular items here.


    Bookmark   January 17, 2008 at 6:34PM
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highalttransplant(z 5 Western CO)

David, I've already spoke with the landscape guy. He is coming out, once the snow has melted, and the ground isn't frozen solid, to rework a couple of sprinkler zones for me. I'll get him to show me where the lines are so that I know where it's safe to dig.

BTW, I started to order the grape vines for the pergolla that my husband is going to build for me when I ordered the apple trees, but I thought that might be putting the cart before the horse. We like red grapes, so I was thinking about 'Reliance', which I've read is hardy to -25 degrees. I'm a bit concerned about drainage. I was reading an article that CSU put out for people planning to start a vineyard, and they were emphasizing that the ideal location for grape vines is on a slope, or area that gets excellent drainage. The area around our patio, where the pergolla is going, is relatively flat, and the backyard slopes down towards that area. I haven't seen standing water there since the sod was put in, but it is definitely the wettest spot in yard. Anything I can do to improve the drainage before I plant the vines?

Maybe I need to start a grape thread?


    Bookmark   January 17, 2008 at 6:48PM
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david52 Zone 6

Bonnie, I have grapes at the bottom of my vegetable garden, which I generally keep about as wet as a rice paddy. Just as long as the water doesn't stand around, then it will be fine.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2008 at 6:55PM
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aliceg8(CO 5)

Bonnie, I got the Honeycrisp at King Soopers. They are there intermittantly. I really like this apple. It's sweet, almost as sweet as a Fuji, but much crisper.

Steve also found an apple that had "Alice" in the title, but haven't seen it since. I liked that one as well. ;)

    Bookmark   January 19, 2008 at 11:47AM
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highalttransplant(z 5 Western CO)

I received an email this morning from Stark Bros., and the trees I ordered went out yesterday. As a matter of fact, according to the UPS website, they just left Salina, KS, so I'm thinking they will be here tomorrow.

David, I had planned to dig those holes ahead of time, but the landscape guy didn't come out until yesterday. It's a good thing I didn't dig before checking with him, because sure enough, one of the spots I had picked is directly over the main sprinkler line. Oh, and your other prediction was right on the money as well. The forecast is calling for rain/snow tomorrow. It's ALMOST funny!

Soooo .... what do I do with the trees, if I can't get them in the ground as soon as they arrive?


    Bookmark   March 25, 2008 at 3:26PM
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david52 Zone 6

Hi Bonnie,

try to keep them cold, and dormant, so outside in the shade will keep them happy for several days, if not weeks. I'd rip open the box, because likely you'll find the roots are wrapped up with plastic and damp wood shavings, you'd want to lose the plastic and keep the wood shavings, maybe cover the roots with some wet newspaper / rags - idea is moist and some fresh air, which they wouldn't get with the plastic. Just so long as the roots don't dry out then you're fine until you can manage the planting holes. Worse comes to worse, throw some damp soil on the roots, leaving the plant lying down.

Bare root gardening lingo, thats called "heeling in", and you can use that to impress the landscape guy and who ever else needs it :->.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2008 at 8:01PM
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highalttransplant(z 5 Western CO)

No rain or snow yesterday, just plenty of wind. After a bit of a disagreement with DH, one apple tree went in the backyard, and one went in the sideyard, which is in the north corner of the property. I was a bit concerned that there might not be enough sun in that spot, but I have been watching it all morning, and it was still in the sun at 12:30. If the sun is high enough in the sky in March to not be blocked by the house, then I'm sure that area will get plenty of sun in the summer months. So all's well that ends well : ) Maybe I'll try and get a picture of my babies later.


    Bookmark   March 27, 2008 at 2:59PM
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david52 Zone 6

Actually, that north side might be an advantage, because the ground should stay colder longer, and maybe later flowering.

Anyway, good luck with them:->

    Bookmark   March 27, 2008 at 3:10PM
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robinco(z5 CO)

2 years ago we put in 10 bare root trees from Trees of Antiquity. I was blown away when they arrived in the mail. They were in great shape with a beautiful fan of roots and big, strong stems. They have done absolutely beautifully, especially the Golden Russet, Spitzenburg, Hewes Virginia Crab, Cox's Orange Pippin, and, of course, Jonathan.

Good luck with your decision!

Here is a link that might be useful: Trees of Antiquity

    Bookmark   March 29, 2008 at 10:40AM
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david52 Zone 6

Thanks, robinco, thats the best selection of apple trees I've seen, and good prices as well.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2008 at 6:06PM
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robinco(z5 CO)

Glad to be of help, David. We also planted Ashmead's Kernel, Fameuse (snow apple), and Stayman Winesap. They've done fine as well but one weekend while we were away our Shetland Sheep figured out how to "walk down" the wire cages around them and had a tasty snack of tender apple shoots. The trees did seem to recover reasonably well after we put in beefier fences, though.

We followed ToA's planting advice to the letter and continue to follow their advice for care in subsequent years. Because we were planting into pasture, we followed the advice of _The Apple Grower: Guide for the Organic Orchardist_ (a great book, by the way) to add a mycorrhizal inoculant and to mulch heavily with woody mulch (but not right at the trunks).

It has been a fun adventure and we look forward to getting our first apples. We chose MM111 rootstock, so we're told we can expect our first apples after 3-4 years. Of course, the company is located in California (where all things seem to grow better) so we'll be happy to see some action by year 5 or 6.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   March 30, 2008 at 9:36AM
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